NEW DELHI: The winter session of the Lok Sabha began with an unusually genial Prime Minister reaching out to the Congress party. PM Narendra Modi broke what the Congress MPs had been referring to as his “silent ignorance” by inviting Congress President Sonia Gandhi and former PM Manmohan Singh for a cup of tea. The reason: the government needs the support of the Congress to pass the Goods and Services Tax Bill without which it will fall further in world rankings for its perceived failure to implement economic reforms and thus, climbing the ladder of ‘development.’

The Congress party well aware of its new found importance with the Modi government, is now sharply divided on the GST legislation. Although this was its own legislation, there is a visible reluctance within to concede political ground to the BJP given the animosity between the two political parties. Sources said that it was now highly unlikely that the Bill that requires a constitutional amendment will be passed in this session as Sonia Gandhi and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi are completely opposed to it. Even now officially the Congress has not given a clear cut response, but has let it be known that a decision will be taken only after Sonia Gandhi who is currently in the United States, returns.

Three Congress MPs who are members in
the Rajya Sabha Select Committee on Goods and Services Tax — Madhusudan Mistry, Mani Shankar Aiyar and Bhalchandra Mungekar — have submitted a dissent note. They have claimed that the Constitution amendment bill is riddled with compromises, exclusions and exceptions that make it impossible for them to extend support. The leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Maillarjun Kharge is also of the view that the Congress should not support the Bill, and clearly the handshake with PM Modi has not helped soften this stance. Younger MPs close to Rahul Gandhi are firm about not bailing the government out of the economic woods at this point.

Former PM Singh who brought in the GST Bill in 2009 is keen that the Congress party support at it as is former Minister Jairam Ramesh. However, these leaders are now coming down to the realisation that despite the push, the Congress party top brass is in no mood to pass the Bill and that as sources said, it is highly unlikely that it will be cleared in this session of Parliament.

This will come as a major blow to the government that is already receiving flak on its inability to move ahead on the reforms agenda promised by PM Modi. Moody’s in its latest report has voiced this scepticism with, “a failure to implement these reforms could hamper investments amid weak global growth.” According to Moody’s assessment “potential headwinds looms for a loss of reforms momentum.”

The BJP government had succeeded in enlisting several political parties behind its push for the GST Bill. The list includes Janata Dal(U), and the Samajwadi party, both that are in government in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh respectively. The other parties supporting the Bill include Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party and the Nationalist Congress party. Sharad Pawar (NCP) has been actively lobbying for the Bill with the Congress party as well. Mayawati has also extended her support just recently, even as she attacked the BJP government on other issues.

The Congress, Left parties and the AIADMK are currently against the bill, with the latter two vociferously against it. Hence the pressure on the Congress party that had authored the GST Bill by the government with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley spending considerable time in meeting the individual MPs of the Congress party in a bid to get their support. PM Modi followed this up with a personal appeal and a smile that is fairly rare for him in Parliament. The three political parties together have about 89 MPs in a Rajya Sabha of 245 members. Given the fact that this is a constitutional amendment Bill, this constitutes a formidable block in position to stop the Bill that will of course, be passed without much ado in the Lok Sabha where the BJP has a complete majority and the support of many of the opposition parties.

The pressure on the Congress party seems to have been stalled by the party president now, who sources suggest, is not interested in conceding ground to the BJP on this issue right now.